Lessons from an Innovation Rescue

by Donna Sturgess

Lessons from an Innovation Rescue Early retail acceptance can make or break many new products. When your latest innovation doesn’t hit the sales rate the retailer expects your product may be discontinued, resulting in a downward sales spiral. Here are some of the lessons learned from entrepreneurs who had to react quickly when CVS dropped their At Heart® emergency aspirin product. www.AtHeartOnline.com.

True to its name, At Heart®, can save your life during the first onset of heart attack symptoms. The American Heart Association recommends calling 911 and chewing an aspirin tablet at the first sign of a heart attack, but most of us are not walking around with a bottle of aspirin at the time. At Heart® is a portable, secure dispenser of two aspirin tablets that can clip onto a key ring for you to have with you at all times.

According to Mark Prus of PivotPoint Innovation, the agency for Advent Consumer Healthcare LLC, “We learned a lot about the introduction of an innovative product into the marketplace, first at retail and now on the internet. If we had a ‘do over’ we would incorporate the following lessons learned into our plans” :

Lessons from an Innovation Rescue

1. Don’t swing for the fences – Most entrepreneurs want the “big hit” and sometimes you can go for it, but swinging for the fences carries a lot of risk, and if things don’t go the way you want, you can lose your shirt. The key is to do your homework and understand the size of the opportunity through intensive research with your target consumers. Only then can you develop plans that will produce results. In hindsight they would have been better off starting on the internet to build demand for the product and establish the brand equity before launching at retail.

2. Be prepared for the long run – This is the corollary to #1. Putting all the chips down on one number on the roulette wheel will bankrupt you pretty quickly. You need to spread your bets and invest a little in several opportunities until you figure out what is working.

3. Be sure you understand your target market – At Heart® is a useful product for men and women over 40, for people with a family history of heart disease, for those who don’t get regular physical activity or who smoke, who are obese, have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. That is a pretty big target market (e.g., 85 million people have some form of cardiovascular disease). Don’t make the mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make of saying “if we only get 1% of those people we will be rich!” According to Frank Alvino, the inventor of At Heart®, “We learned that most of the buyers are not the person at risk, but rather the caretaker of that person such as the spouse of someone who is at risk.” This has enormous implications for marketing the product properly.

4. Build in flexibility so you can react quickly – On the Dr. Oz Show, Rosie O’Donnell talked about her heart attack and pulled out her At Heart® and started to wax eloquent about the importance of the product. The opportunity came up quickly and the company had only a few days to react; the subsequent sales have been a difficult challenge for the company to meet. This type of unplanned promotion on Dr. Oz’s show is a gift for any entrepreneur.

5. Use experts and outsource where possible – The pairing of Frank Alvino, a seasoned entrepreneur, with Mark Prus, a veteran marketing and innovation expert, has been a great match. However, successfully launching a new product requires a lot of resources, and Mark and Frank have developed numerous outsourcing arrangements to fill the talent gaps as needed.

6. Stay in constant touch with consumers – Frank and Mark answer the phones and emails. While this may not be sustainable as volume grows, it is critically important in the launch period. For example, a glitch in the e-commerce solution was causing difficulty in ordering by some consumers. An alternate solution was developed to provide a quick patch while a long term fix is developed. A significant amount of sales would have been lost without constant contact.

Fortunately At Heart® has a second chance in the marketplace and is sold via the internet only. Perhaps when the brand is better established it may take another run at retail distribution. There is plenty of rationale for it to be in wide distribution at retail.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Each year, about 1 million Americans will suffer a first or recurrent heart attack, and some 500,000 will not survive it.

If you are looking for a stocking stuffer this holiday for someone you love, you might just be helping some entrepreneurs rescue their business. www.AtHeartOnline.com.

image credit: churning waters image from bigstock

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Donna Sturgess is the President and Co-founder of Buyology Inc and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her latest book is Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive. Follow on Twitter: @donnasturgess

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